When I walk past a bank these days, I like to peer through the windows and stare. I see employees typing on computers. I see customers standing around. And I must admit: I have no idea what on Earth they could be doing in there.
You see, I’ve been using an online bank as my only bank for the past five years. I went all-in on online banking in 2014 and never looked back. I don’t miss a thing about brick and mortar banks.
Call me old fashioned, but there’s a short list of features I want in a bank:
- Free checking and no fees
- A network of free ATMs (or fee reimbursement)
- Ability to deposit checks anywhere and anytime
- Ability to transfer money between accounts instantly
- Competitive interest rate on savings
- A bitchin’ website and mobile app
Does Ally Bank (Ally) offer all these features and more? Let’s find out.
Banks love to charge fees. And us customers end up paying them way too often. But Ally offers free checking and savings accounts.
There are no minimum account balance requirements. And no fees on standard stuff like deposits, ACH transfers, online bill pay, and many ATMs. They even offer a “No Penalty” Certificate of Deposit with no penalty for early withdrawal after the first six days.
Ally does charge fees for some rare and advanced banking maneuvers. These are things like wire transfers, excessive transfers, and nollie kickflips. You can’t have more than six transfers from a saving accounts per statement cycle. If you do, there’s a $10 fee per transaction over the limit.
Overdraft fees aren’t an issue because you can turn on overdraft protection for your checking account if you also have an Ally savings account.
Ally’s Overdraft Transfer Service protects your account from overdrafts and the resulting nasty fees. It transfers money from your savings account to your checking account for you. This is done in $100 increments as needed to avoid the overdraft.
In contrast, many banks punish their customers in cruel and unnecessary ways. They charge overdraft fees while the money is sitting around twiddling its thumbs in an account next door. Can you imagine?
“I’m paying small fees to my bank here and there for convenience. Am I doing it wrong?”
If you’re paying any type of fee to access or use your own money, you’re doing it wrong.
You can use your Ally debit card and PIN to access any Allpoint ATM in the United States for free. Ally says there are more than 43,000 of them. You can find one close to you on Ally’s website or in the mobile app.
Ally refunds ATM fees incurred at non-Allpoint ATMs in the U.S, but only up to $10 per statement cycle. Sure, there are plenty of ATMs out there with low morals and high fees. But it’s hard to imagine a scenario where this $10 reimbursement wouldn’t be enough. As long as you:
- Pay using a credit or debit card whenever possible
- Look for those free Allpoint ATMs
- Keep a fat stack of cash on hand at your home
- Plan ahead to avoid a cash-withdrawal bonanza
It’s a cinch to deposit checks electronically using Ally’s mobile app. Ally calls this “eCheck Deposit”, and you can deposit checks up to $50,000 this way. If you exceed that limit, you’ll have to mail the check to Ally, like an animal.
Here’s how eCheck Deposit works:
- Make sure you’ve endorsed your check, then log into the app.
- The app will prompt you to take photo on the front and back of the check.
- Choose the specific checking or saving account where you want the funds deposited.
- Type in the amount and tap the Submit Deposit button.
Once you see the success message, you’re done. But don’t shred the check yet. You should hang onto it for 60 days to make sure nothing goes wrong. Then it’s safe to destroy the check.
Once Ally accepts your deposit you’ll see the funds hit your account in one or two business days, depending on when you deposit it.
-Submit a check online before 7 pm ET, and you’ll see it on the next business day. For example, if you deposit a check at 6:30 pm ET on Thursday, you’ll see it in your account on Friday (provided it is a business day and not a holiday)
-Submit a check online after 7 pm ET, and you’ll see it on the 2nd business day. For example, if you deposit a check at 7:30 pm ET on Thursday, you’ll see it in your account on Monday (provided it is a business day and not a holiday)Source: https://www.ally.com/help/bank/deposits.html
The Ally debit card is issued by Mastercard. It’s purple. Otherwise, there’s nothing interesting or unique about it. It’s worked great as an ATM card, even as my ATM usage has dwindled over the years. It’s also worked as a debit card the handful of times I’ve used it for purchases. But I tend to use a credit card whenever possible.
Transferring between accounts is easy and instant. It couldn’t be easier to execute transfers from the mobile app or from Ally’s website. You’ll need to be careful to avoid the excessive transfers fee, as discussed in the fees section. But Ally makes it easy to see how many transactions are remaining in your statement cycle.
The Ally savings account is well known for its competitive interest rate. The rate on savings accounts is currently 1.50% (as of April 2020). And it’s common that they adjust it, so keep an eye on their homepage. Ally displays the latest rate as a siren call to high-yield hunters.
There’s no minimum balance required to earn that rate, nor any other sneaky fine print or crazy caveats. So Ally’s online savings account is a solid place to park your cash.
The Ally checking account offers more modest interest rates. Currently, it’s at .10% with less than $15,000 minimum daily balance and .60% with a $15,000 minimum daily balance. This may seem skimpy compared to the savings account. The truth is it’s very competitive compared to most checking accounts available out there. At most financial institutions you’re lucky to get free checking, never mind a competitive interest rate. Plus you can earn the higher interest rate in an attached savings account. Then move funds into your checking account each month as needed.
Website and Mobile App
The Ally website and mobile app are both flat out impressive. The interface is minimal while making features easy to find when needed.
It’s easy to see your balance at a glance, across all accounts, and within individual accounts. You can see how much interest you’ve earned year to date, and the current rate for each account.
The transaction history is crystal clear to view, search, and download. Transferring money between accounts is buttery smooth and instant.
As for the visual aesthetic, the purple and blue color scheme pops. The fonts choices make everything easy to read. The bold visual design makes the site and app enjoyable to use, but not like you’re banking at some kind of clown bank.
C’mon, There Must Be a Downside
If there’s a downside, it’s the inability to deposit cash. There are times when this ability would be very convenient. Since I don’t work for tips, this generally isn’t a problem. But for inexplicable reasons, I sometimes find myself holding $100 in cold hard cash. It would be nice to deposit that instead of it burning a hole in my minimal wallet. Plus, using cash makes it harder to track spending.
Ally Bank is the place to be for online banking. Moving all my banking there was one of the great financial moves I made in the past five years. I’m sure you have your reasons if you’re still with a local brick and mortar bank or credit union. Or one of the evil 800 pound gorillas in the industry. But are they good reasons? What are you even doing in there? And why do the tellers all have Richard Blais hairdos? Try going the online banking route with Ally. Once you do, you’ll never look back.